SHEILA CHISHOLM

Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid tells the story of a young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince, and what that love cost her. A kiddies favourite bedtime story, Walt Disney Pictures produced  a charming animated movie loosely based on the tale.

It’s a story with enough unusual characters and interesting scenes to make a delightful ballet, surprisingly, few professional choreographers have tackled it.

Craig Pedro and Mariette Opperman The Little Mermaid ballet
Craig Pedro and Mariette Opperman in The Little Mermaid ballet

Cape Town City Ballet’s Summer Season

Who knows whether they’ve worried how to successfully portray a mythical aquatic fin-tailed creature by a dancer with two legs, or deal with realistic underwater scenes as well as those on land, although with today’s technology creating such illusions can’t be that complex.

That said, among the handful who have choreographed long lasting full-length versions are Denmark’s August Bournonville’s 1842 Napoli, set to Peter Ernst Lassen and Frederick Ashton’s 1958  ballet Ondine, which was set to a Hans Werner Henze score.

More recently Mark Diamond choreographed The Little Mermaid for Festival Ballet Providence, and American-born choreographer Adam Sage is presently reproducing his version for Cape Town City Ballet’s Summer Season at Artscape’s Theatre from 14 December 2018 to 6 January 2019.

Sage, who is Associate Artistic Director at Ballet Philippines, has, during his 30 year career as dancer, ballet master, coach, choreographer and artistic director, choreographed over 50 ballets and spent time as a dancer with NAPAC Dance Company. There he met Bishop Lavis-born, House of Representative trained Robert Philander and Robin van Wyk (CTCB’s artistic director) – when they were all NAPAC company members in 1988. It is by van Wyk’s invitation that Sage is visiting Cape Town.

For his The Little Mermaid arrangement Sage uses Delibe’s Sylvia and La Source ballet music. It has two adult casts and 39 children. Says Sage, “I do enjoy working with young people, and find these ‘tinies’ so wonderfully responsive and sincere. I’m using them in underwater scenes as crabs, fishes, sea turtles  and sea horses, and although we only rehearse once a week, their step memories are so good I don’t have to re-teach very much.”

Who are his Mermaid, Prince Erik, Sea Witch, King?

“That’s still under wraps. But I’ll announce that the minute I make the final decisions. All I’ll say is CTCB has some stunning dancers, and whichever cast the audience see, they won’t be disappointed.”

Sage, whose choreography strongly favours the classical vocabulary (five arabesques, chasses into petit tours, grand jetes and formal port de bras etc) has introduced Mermen for pas de deux and corps parts. “These male dancers have brought added dimension to my work, which I find pleasing.”

What about costumes?

“Fortunately we have been lent most of what we need for the kiddies… the fish are so cute, while Mervyn Williams is busy copying the original designs for costume makers to cut and sew. Naturally sea green is our dominant colour, and Mervyn has sourced some lovely soft fabrics to create stunning, shimmering underwater effects.”

A new classical ballet devised from a well-loved fairy tale, danced to well-known ballet music by CTCB in beautiful costumes and sea creature kiddies, should all make for a heart-warming outing to the ballet for all the family.

Cape Town Theatre Guide: https://weekendspecial.co.za/stage-on-the-boards/

What: The Little Mermaid 2018 2019
Who: Cape Town City Ballet’s Summer Season
Where: Artscape’s Theatre Cape Town
The Little Mermaid Artscape: 14 December 2018 – 6 January 2019
Little Mermaid tickets: www.computicket.co.za, 021 421 7695
WS